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Imprinting God

By Ben Swift

“God’s people are holy and called to be holy, set apart by God to be conformed to his Son and to live to his glory.” (Herman Bavinck)

When viewing the cosmos through a God focused lens, you will find there are lessons to be learned almost everywhere you turn, but who would have thought we could expand our theological knowledge by studying the behaviour of newly hatched goslings?

A famous study conducted by scientist Konrad Lorenz led to the understanding of a process called ‘imprinting’. Lorenz divided a clutch of graylag goose eggs, leaving some with the mother and placing the rest in an incubator. Those that hatched with the mother showed normal goose behaviour, following her about and learning from her until their coming of age so to speak. The goslings that hatched in the incubator were first exposed to the researcher and from that day on steadfastly followed Lorenz, demonstrating no recognition of their true mother or other adults of their own species. In a nutshell this demonstrates how imprinting works in the animal kingdom.

As human beings who have been purposefully created to live in relationship with our Creator we must ensure that we go through a process of imprinting that focus’ on the Triune God. There are many voices that seek our attention but only one that truly knows and cares for who we are, what we need and why we are here. This is what Jesus means when he teaches:

“When he [the good shepherd] has bought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognise a stranger’s voice.” (John 10:4-5)

But how can God be the object of our imprinting, particularly as He is incomprehensible and often shrouded in mystery and we’re not goslings, we’re relatively complex human beings? Obviously from a human perspective, much of what we have learned from the moment of our first breath has been influenced by our parents or those closest to us as we move through life. The idea of imprinting by focusing on what God has revealed about Himself can only be understood in terms of our spiritual rebirth. From the moment we die to our old self and are spiritually reborn in Christ, we are to look to Him, follow His voice and learn from His ways. If our imprinting is not based on Christ, make no mistake, we will imprint on alternatives and the world offers us plenty of alternatives to choose from.

It is here that we need to come to terms with our inability as humans to bring about any spiritual rebirth. And as the saying goes, there is no such thing as the evolution of the human spirit. We just can’t change ourselves in a way that makes ourselves right with God. Rather we must acknowledge that our ability to turn to Christ – contradictory to our fallen nature – lies solely in the transforming power of God.

Theologian Karl Barth knew this well. He stressed that humans can know God only when God comes to them in an act of revelation. There is no way from man to God, only from God to man. This revelation is given once and for all in Jesus Christ and he comes to human beings in the existential moment in their lives. (Berkhof)

It is exclusively through the transforming work of the Holy Spirit that we are able to recognize Christ for who He is, and the truth in His words.

‘He [Christ] was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:10-13)

For God to be the subject of our imprinting we must, from the moment our eyes are opened, focus on Christ as He is God revealed. As theologian Martin Luther once suggested, we must flee from the hidden God and look to God as revealed in Christ. This is why the Scriptures say:

‘We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true – even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.’ (1 John 5:20)

In the animal kingdom, imprinting has been found to be crucial to the survival of individuals of certain species as they learn how to survive in their environment. Unlike those in the animal kingdom relying on critical moments in the early stages of their lives to learn what is needed, those who belong to Christ are not subject to the laws of nature and key imprinting moments critical to the survival of the fittest. God has come to us, His Spirit works within us and guides us in truth as His ways are imprinted on our hearts. It’s all in God’s time and we are in His hands. It’s no wonder Jesus told his disciples to follow Him because His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

Surely as the Holy Spirit makes it clear to us as to whom we belong, we are free to follow Christ as He reveals Himself to us, prayerfully seeking to be transformed to be more like Him each day. Ultimately our eternal lives depend on Him.

Teach me, O Lord, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end. Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart. Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight. (Psalm 119:33-35)

Dark and Light

By Ben Swift

“For many in our high-paced world, despair is not a moment; it is a way of life.” (Ravi Zacharias)

As Christians we are taught that Christ is our light and we are to be reflectors of His light to the world; a world that hides from the light, only to stumble around in the confusion of darkness.

“In him [Christ] was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (John 1: 4-5)

But how deep a hole do we have to find ourselves in before the light no longer penetrates to a point where we can be guided by it, to absorb its life-giving power and to reflect it to those around us?

These types of existential questions are nothing new though. I suspect they are as ancient as the fall of humanity. They are, however, questions we need to confront as Christians before the darkness that infuses our minds consumes the healthy grey matter. Take for example the words of the Sons of Korah:

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my saviour and my God.” (Psalm 42:11)

The world in which many of us live, high-paced and corporately driven, is unapologetically non-conducive to the way Christ teaches us to live; a life eternally connected with our Creator. Is it no wonder mental health is such an overwhelming and growing problem impacting directly or indirectly possibly anyone we meet, including the person in the mirror?

Has anyone on their journey through life not questioned how they have somehow arrived at this unforeseen and possibly unbearable destination that is the present? If we could only wind back the hands of time, correct the irreversible consequences of our naïve choices. The hole we find ourselves in may not be our intended situation but nevertheless the machine that is western society more often than not holds us tight in its grip.

As we attend church services on Sunday mornings we are often challenged about the way we live and how much time we dedicate to God but any glint of enthusiasm to change our ways is often snuffed out before we even leave the carpark. The worries of this world, of this life, seem to have us by the scruff.

It’s as though every time we try and fill some of our hole with a shovel full of soil, the world sends in a high-powered digging machine to take us deeper.

Karl Barth in his commentary, ‘The Epistle to the Romans’, puts it this way: “Bereft of understanding and left to themselves, men are at the mercy of the dominion of the meaningless powers of the world; for our life in this world has meaning only in its relation to the true God.”

There is only one ultimate way out of this dilemma; one way to bring light back into our lives and to start living for the purpose we were created for. Something must be sacrificed. Time, wealth, possessions, popularity, all of those potential idols that the world assures us maketh the person. How can we possibly seek to spend time with God, listening to his voice and leaning on his truth, if all of our time is spent chasing the things that are here today and gone tomorrow?

“And I saw that all labour and all achievement spring from man’s envy of his neighbour. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 4:4)

Deep down humanity craves meaning and that meaning, if we openly receive it, has been revealed to us in Christ. We must open our eyes and minds to the light that shines through what Christ has to say and we can’t do this if we continue to let the world deepen our hole, filling it with all-consuming darkness.

When the darkness in our lives impacts our grey matter and even our soul’s core, the load can seem too much to bear. Christ knows this all too well but he, unlike the gods we must strive to measure up to, reaches out to us with words of everlasting comfort that cannot be found to exist outside of his Grace. This is the comfort that can only be offered by a God who knows us intimately because he created us with love and purpose in mind.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11: 28-30)

These are words to cling to; words that shine light into the dark holes in which we often reside. Let them bring meaning to your life in a way that nothing else can. In the end a life rooted in Christ is the only real life and when we live out of tune with our Father’s song, we should not be surprised by the impact that darkness can have on the wellness of our souls.

Apologetics Beyond Mount Stupid

By Ben Swift

In Christian circles, the art of apologetics – providing a reasonable defence for the Christian Faith – is becoming increasingly prominent, particularly as social media simplifies the process of conversation on a global scale. How can we become more effective in the area of Christian apologetics then?

I believe a good starting point can be found in the following words of Forest Gump. “Stupid is as stupid does.” Now stay with me here. Forest makes a good point. Stupidity is not defined by one’s intellect but rather by one’s actions. In the realm of apologetics, to be arrogant is to appear stupid and we need to keep in mind that we are called to reflect Christ in our conversations and Christ was gentle and humble in heart.

So how do we avoid appearing stupid when it comes to our ability to argue for our faith? Firstly, we should learn from a simple but interesting study conducted in 1999 by Dunning and Kruger in what became known as the ‘Dunning-Kruger Effect.” This study demonstrated a psychological phenomenon in which individuals foolishly believe they have enough knowledge about a subject to be vocal about it, despite not having obtained enough knowledge around the subject to engage in discussions that reflect any real wisdom on their behalf.

Perhaps the more well-known, less scientific version of the Dunning-Kruger Effect is referred to as climbing Mount Stupid. Until one reaches the peak of Mount Stupid they will continue in their delusion of expertise until finally they reach the point where they come to terms with their own ignorance. At this point they become willing to slide to the bottom of the uncomfortable slope where they can resume a realistic building of knowledge whist in a state of humility.

For the Christian apologist, the quicker one can ascend Mount Stupid the better. Let’s just get it out of the way! The advantage the Christian has, however, is that Christ demands humility from us from the beginning; He asks that we make our descent before him as we come to a child-like dependence on him from the moment we are called.

And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew: 18:3)

Having contemplated the need to avoid being stuck on the ignorant side of Mount Stupid, we need to consider what the apologist needs to immerse themselves in so as to provide reasonable arguments for their faith. Strangely, I believe we can learn here from an unlikely teacher, the fighter. If you’ve ever had a conversation with an experienced fighter, one with extensive experience in the ring, they will tell you that no training measures up to real combat. Take for instance the words of Mike Tyson: “Everyone has a plan – until they get punched in the face.” In other words, having conversations and healthy debates with people regarding the reasonableness of the Christian Faith will swiftly deliver blows to areas of our personal ignorance, helping to point us to where our knowledge needs to grow. Of course, we can also learn from those who have many years of experience answering the deepest of questions; responding with reason to the unreasonable.

Respected apologists such as Alister McGrath and Ravi Zacharias come to mind.

An excellent starting point in the apologist’s journey would be to consider: “Does Christianity and its understanding of God, stand tall when subject to questions of reason?”

Throughout history there have been several well-reasoned arguments for the existence of God.

Cosmological arguments that revolve around the need for an intelligent creator, the mind and energy behind the Big Bang and thus the birth of the universe have been discussed extensively. Moral arguments have been put forward suggesting that humanity’s sense of right and wrong must originate from an ultimate source of morality being God. It is important to keep in mind though that well-reasoned arguments in these areas remain unable to provide reasonable proof beyond any doubt for the existence of the Christian God. We must as apologists come to terms with the fact many answers can only be left to faith whether others accept this fact or not.

This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:13-14)

The question of whether Christianity can stand tall in the face of reason will never be answered with a resounding, “Yes!” For if reason alone could explain the reality of God, then faith would become obsolete. The good news for the Christian however, is that by the ongoing, transforming work of the Holy Spirit, we are able to understand the reasonableness of our faith.

And so as Christian apologists we must arrive at the point of understanding that the God given gift of faith, provides us with the only means of truly comprehending God’s truth. That is the truth about his existence, his nature and his revelation and plan for his people. Let us therefore, seek to use our intellect in a way that is humbly and spiritually driven, prayerfully acknowledging that any effective apologetics on our behalf is completely dependent on God and his purposes; apologetics beyond Mount Stupid.

The Contentious Cross

By Ben Swift

“The cross stands high above the opinions of men and to that cross all opinions must come at last for judgement.” (A.W. Tozer)

Throughout history nothing has been the cause of more contention and division than the cross of Christ. But why?

For the most part, the divisive nature of the message of the cross stems from what happened following the death of Christ. Apart from those who follow the teachings of Islam, it is widely accepted as historical fact, both inside and outside of the Christian Faith that Jesus of Nazareth lived and died according to the accounts presented in the Gospels. It is what Christianity proclaims happened next in Christ’s resurrection that draws a deep, dividing line in the sand.

Our personal view on the cross will to a large extent depend on our view of the truth about ourselves in relation to sin and our need for salvation. Whilst it is a fundamental belief in Christian circles that we have inherited a sinful nature from our ancestor Adam, this is by no means a universal, worldly understanding of the human condition.

One classic example is the Hindu perspective on sin and salvation. In 1983, a lecture was held in the first Parliament of Religions in Chicago where Swami Vivekananda, a Hindu reformer, said, “The Hindu refuses to call you sinners. Ye are the children of God; the sharers of immortal bliss, holy and perfect beings. Ye divinities on earth, sinners? It is a sin to call a man a sinner. It is a standing libel on human nature.” (Stott, John, Evangelical Truth)

For one to follow a teaching that defines humanity as anything other than innately sinful and needing salvation from a source that lay beyond the self, the cross of Christ will surely seem foolishness and even offensive.

For the Jews of Jesus day, to be crucified in the humiliating and torturous way as had been perfected by the Roman executioners was far removed from their idea of messianic victory. To be crucified was to be cursed (Deuteronomy 21: 22-23) and surely this was not the destiny of their awaited Messiah. According to their Scriptures though, the crucifixion was exactly what had been foretold by the prophet Isaiah. Take for example a small section of his prophetic words:

“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53: 5-6)

Surely from the moment human beings turned their backs on their Creator, feeding on the forbidden fruit that was to open their eyes and ears to the delusion of becoming a God unto themselves, they have refused to believe the truth, exchanging it for a lie. It’s not surprising then that when many seek a form of spirituality they are drawn to teachings that affirm their personal goodness and individualistic right to divinity.

It is for this reason that we as Christians must place at the centre of our lives the cross of Christ. To deny the resurrection and what Christ achieved on the cross is to deny Christ Himself. If the resurrection is a lie then Paul, a great leader in the early church would have to have been a false teacher. The Christian hope he spoke of in being resurrected in Christ would be worthless. But as any respectable historian would have to concede, for Paul to lie in this way just doesn’t add up. Why would a highly respected and positioned, Christian-hating Roman citizen suddenly give up everything and devote his entire life to serving and suffering for the one he was so adamant on destroying? There really is only one explanation. He came to know the risen Christ. The reality of Paul’s conversion can be clearly seen in his new found perspective on the cross.

“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14)

Paul was well aware of the divisiveness the cross brings to a world of people who reject Christ.

“Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified; a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 22-24)

The question that we must all face is one that can often cause intermittent division within our own minds. You could say that there is a psychology associated with the cross as we wrestle with the truth about our need for a saviour in a world that denies this reality. Hope, however, can only be found at the foot of the cross. It is only here that we can find the rest we all seek; the rest that can be found exclusively in the grace of our saviour, Christ. Because He has risen, we who are in Him will also rise. There is no psychology more positive than that.

“But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” (1 Corinthians 15: 20-22)

Painted Black

By Ben Swift

“When evil justifies itself by posturing as morality, God becomes the devil and the devil, God. That exchange makes one impervious to reason.” (Zacharias)

It would be hard to believe that anyone could deny the fact that evil has a real presence in this world. One doesn’t have to travel far through the pages of history to find extraordinarily cruel cases of evil.

Take communist Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot, for example. In his time of political leadership an estimated 1.5 to 2 million Cambodians died of starvation, execution, disease or exhaustion. Evil however is at its most obvious in cases like these but disturbingly, it can be found lurking in the hearts of every human being; the inherited seed of our most ancient ancestors.

The Rolling Stones song, ‘Paint It Black’, reflectively portrays the darker side of the human heart, continually being blackened by the evil we are all exposed to on a daily basis. Consider the following key lines:

‘I look inside myself and see my heart is black…..It’s not easy facing up when your whole world is black.’

This is why Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias in his book, Deliver Us from Evil, suggests that evil is not just where blood has been spilled but rather it is in the self-absorbed human heart.

Many theologians and philosophers have struggled and wrestled with the question of where evil came from. In other words, who or what was the author of evil?

Theology suggests that sin came into the world through one sin but the question still remains, how was this able to occur when all of creation as described in Genesis was declared to be good by the all-powerful and loving Creator Himself?

Did God create evil? Did God intend evil? How else could evil have made its way into creation in order to bring it down?

While it’s understood that sin came through one human act of rebellion towards God, the temptation to sin in this way was prompted by Satan (Genesis 3). For this to be true, evil must have already existed in Satan. It would make sense then to learn a little more about who Satan is. Jesus uses the following description of him:

“He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44)

Satan, along with other fallen angels whom he leads, were cast out of Heaven – God’s realm – to await final judgement. The mind of Satan and all his demon allies are permanently set to oppose God, goodness, truth, the kingdom of Christ, and the welfare of human beings. He has real but limited power and as Calvin once phrased, drags his chains wherever he goes and can never hope to overcome God. (Packer)

Despite Satan being completely at odds with God, he is not like God. Their opposing natures cannot be thought of as dualistic, yin-yang type entities. Only God is eternal in that only He has always existed. Satan is His creation and all of His creation was created by and for Himself. For if Satan wasn’t created by God, then by who? And if there was another all-powerful creator responsible for Satan, there would also need to be a realm within which God is not in control. According to Scriptures that cannot be true.

“For by Him all things were created: the things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by Him and for Him.” (Colossians 1: 16)

Importantly, “Everything created by God is good.” (1 Timothy 4:4) and “This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all.” (1 John 1:5)

As the Scriptures testify, God made everything good according to His perfect light but something went terribly wrong. Somehow darkness made its way into creation and there is only one legitimate explanation.

If the perfect loving relationship that has eternally existed in the Trinity is to be reflected in mankind back to the God whose image he bears, freedom to love must be allowed to exist. For without the freedom to love, love is meaningless; simply an act of predetermined obedience. When it comes to freedom, however, there must be an available flip side. It is through this freedom that love can become hate, obedience can become rebellion, light can become darkness. And so the story unfolded and continues to play out to this day. No fallen creature is exempt from the aftershock of Satan’s fall from God’s presence into ours, and the day that human beings tried to assume the position of becoming their own God.

Did God create Satan to be evil? Absolutely not! His evil arose from within; from the heart of the father of all lies.

Did God create human beings to enact evil in order to bring about His purposes? No! But He certainly can and has used what man has intended for evil to bring about His purposes.

In the end we can’t shift the blame for the sin that we personally bring into this world. We, as free human beings, have the ability to make choices and must live with the consequences of the wrong decisions of both ourselves and others. Here the relationship between evil, sin and suffering become painfully apparent; world history highlighting time and again what twisted hearts are capable of enacting even to the point of crucifying the Son of God.

It is only at this point, when we come to realise the depths to which evil has become intertwined with the hearts of humanity that we can fully understand the incomprehensible love and mercy shown by Christ as He paid the price for our sin, crushing evil and defeating Satan’s power once and for all through His death and resurrection. Certainly God is not responsible for evil but rather responsible for the unique hope of Christianity in that we can join with Jesus in saying, “It is finished!”

The Humans Must Be Crazy

By Ben Swift

“I know what you’re thinking. I am proposing a sane world — I must be crazy.”
— Swami Beyondananda

One of my all-time favourite opening scenes to a movie is in an old but continually relevant film, ‘The Gods Must be Crazy.’ The writers of this scene perceptively compare the contrasting life-styles of an isolated, ancient tribe of the Kalahari Bushman to that of the so called modern, civilized man.

Within a few minutes it becomes obvious beyond a doubt that the social and cultural progress of the modern man has in fact led to the evolution of a higher order of insanity. Let’s be honest. Humanity in all its wisdom has consistently made life more complicated, fast-paced and self-serving with every passing decade.

I find it interesting that particularly in the workplace, research has shown beyond a doubt that we as human beings need to rest. For those in Christian circles, it’s not uncommon to begin the morning with a devotion in relation to taking time out of the world’s frantic pace and resting in Christ. While this might be a good thing, it often seems that the Amen ending the reflection is synchronized with the downloading of the daily agenda on what needs to be achieved. Surely we can all see the irony of such a practice.

Human beings have not been created with stupidity in mind. In fact, as recorded in Genesis 1:26, God said,
“Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

But it seems from the moment humanity took a bite from that metaphorical, forbidden fruit – seeking to be their own gods and going their own way – self-serving insanity has led the way.

When God warned human beings from the very beginning that if they were to turn their backs on Him that they would surely die (Genesis 3:3), did we ever conceive that our wisdom and sanity would be a part of the dying process?

We as people don’t need to travel far into our past to find classic examples to highlight the insanity of humanity. The tobacco industry and its assault on our species is a case in point. It would be fair to say that for some time the effects of smoking on health were not completely understood but as time passed and suspicions were confirmed by science, insanity kicked in to its highest gear. In the knowledge that the tobacco industry was a death machine in motion, the response of so called civilized and sophisticated man was to continue to support the industry as it continued to support the economic desires of the collective self. The statistics of this insanity are mind-blowingly sad. “Globally, tobacco use killed 100 million people in the 20th century, much more than all deaths in World Wars I and II combined. Tobacco-related deaths will number around 1 billion in the 21st century if current smoking patterns continue.” (The Tobacco Atlas)

The insanity of humanity could be explicitly demonstrated from a number of angles. We could analyse our part in global environmental issues such as climate change or zero in on our obsession for fashion and celebrity as they dictate the new black for our lives. But if we just take the time to step back and reflect on our insanity, what will we find? What drives us to take up residence in such an unquestioning world of blind insanity?

The answer can only be found in the One who knows us because He created us; in the Creator in whom our purpose needs to be regrafted. We as humans have surely lost our way, but thanks be to Christ who is ‘The Way’; the narrow path to sanity.

It is in Christ that we are able to see clearly just how intertwined with the insanity of the world we have all become, but it’s also in Christ that we receive in Grace the gift of hope; a way to walk in truth.

‘But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for it is light that makes everything visible. That is why it is said: “Wake up O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Be very careful, then, how you live – not as unwise but as wise.’ (Ephesians 5:13-15)

Of course we must be prepared for the fact that to the insane, sanity will always appear to be insanity; wisdom to appear foolishness. Christ warned us of such things. The path of following Christ may be illuminated to the illuminated mind but will remain hidden to the mind of those who continue to walk in the darkness. Christianity does not provide us with a smooth ride in this life and will not allow us to live as one with the world. Insanity and sanity living side by side in a human mind will only lead to conflict and breakdown. There can only be two choices. We must take on the mind of Christ or take on the mind of those who have rejected Christ. No new, easier way can be constructed that exists in reality. C.S. Lewis knew this well. Consider his words:
“If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about.”

It turns out that it’s actually not the gods who must be crazy, but rather the ways of humanity. But without the Holy Spirit to expose our futile thinking, we cannot and will not, fully comprehend the insanity with which we live. Ultimately, to live outside of a relationship with our Creator is insane. It is to walk a path that leads us away from our very purpose in being and away from life. To gain life, we must be prepared to lose it; to live as fools for Christ in an insane world.

‘Do not deceive yourselves. If any one of you thinks he is wise by the standards of this age, he should become a “fool” so that he may become wise.’ (1 Corinthians 3:18)

Fear

By Ben Swift

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10)

Anyone who has ever stood in close proximity to a great male lion – the king of the beasts – and looked into its majestic, yet terrifying face would awaken a sense of fear of what such a beast is capable. The roar of a lion can send thunderous vibrations through the ground on which you stand, indeed through your very being. To come face to face with a hungry lion in the wild would elicit such fear that any normal human being could only freeze and be subject to the desires of this beast. Perhaps this explains why the lion was chosen by C.S. Lewis as the character for Aslan.

While Lewis’ fictional character of Aslan the lion does provide us with some powerful imagery into the awesomeness and majesty of God, we would do well to consider that creatures such as the lion are just that; creatures.

In terms of fear then, are we Christians living in today’s world in danger of losing our sense of who God really is? Are we so blinded by theologies that allow us to create God into whatever image we desire, losing our fear of Him that is far greater than any beast?

Consider the following words from Jesus to His disciples:

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in Hell.” (Matthew 10:28)

Surely true wisdom is to allow these words to penetrate deep within our understanding and consciousness. Who is man and who is God? Isn’t this the question of all questions? We need to continually ponder it, relying on the Holy Spirit to hold us to the truth that exists in its answer. The answer however, should not be sought simply philosophically or scientifically but theologically through what God has revealed to us about Himself. It all begins and ends with Christ as through His living Word the nature of the Triune God is revealed.

“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him.” (John 14: 6)

“Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14: 9b)

If we consider the purpose of humanity as revealed in the Scriptures to be to live as image bearers of Christ and therefore to reflect the nature of our Creator back into the world, it would make sense to hold a healthy fear tied to a true understanding of the Creator and His creation. But is this the reality for the church of today, or even for those who claim to follow Christ?

We certainly don’t need to venture very far to see that the Church today does not consistently reflect the nature of God as revealed in Christ. One of the basic principles in reading and interpreting the Word is to interpret Scripture with Scripture but what about interpreting our Christian lives under the same lens. If the Christian life is reflecting cultural norms rather than standing apart from them, surely alarm bells should be ringing?

So why is it that we consistently live as though it is the world we have to fear rather than the One who created the world, holding sovereign power over it? Surely it must come down to human arrogance. C.S. Lewis cleverly puts it in these words:

“According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride….It was through pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”[1]

Pride or arrogance is easily developed and expressed as it comes so naturally to our fallen nature. Perhaps the most effective cure for this diseased state of mind is to be subject to an inescapable reality check, one that breathes life into our fear once more. Like the lion’s breath-taking roar, God can take us to this place as we listen to His voice speak through the Scriptures. The book of Job provides us with perhaps the most humbling starting point. Consider the words of God to Job as he was reminded of the answer to the ever important question of God and man:

“Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?” (Job 38: 2-5)

What if God is asking all of us these questions? Listen to His voice. Brace yourself like a human because you are not God and He alone is all powerful. Like Job, all who claim to follow Christ must come to the same understanding of Job. That is, we must humbly develop a healthy fear of God, echoing Job’s response.

“I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, “Who is this that obscures my counsel without knowledge?” Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, “Listen now and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42: 2-6)

Surely to know God is to love but also fear God; to listen to His voice; to shed our arrogance and to follow Christ in humility. Here lies true wisdom, foolishness to the world.

[1] Lewis. C.S., Mere Christianity, (C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd., 1952) p. 69